Tucker Who?

OK, the snocross racing world certainly isn’t ready to forget about the dominating second-generation Arctic Cat racer from northeastern Minnesota. For one night, however, Hibbert wasn’t the big winner.

Instead, his rival Ross Martin of Burlington, Wisconsin, was the shining star and the person holding the huge check on day 1 of the Amsoil Duluth National – the opening round of the ISOC racing circuit.

Martin, 27, has been Phil Mickelson to Hibbert’s Tiger Woods for several years now – a highly respected, durable and strong competitor who would likely claim many wins in other eras, but who seemed hopelessly pitted against somebody in the same era with hall-of-fame level skills. He has won plenty of races over the years (27 in the Pro classes, in fact), but most have come late in the season, after Hibbert shut down his effort to focus on motocross.

On Friday, though, Martin turned the tables in the first-ever Amsoil Dominator event, a winner-takes-all challenge that paid Martin $10,000.

The event, dreamed up and sponsored by Amsoil after the snocross lost its X Games exposure, featured heats that narrowed the field to a bracket of 16 riders, and then one-on-one, rapid-fire showdowns, where competitors raced two-and-a-half laps against a single competitor, with the winner advancing to the next round and the loser parked for the night. Visualize a bracket like the NCAA tournament, and you’ll get the idea.

Through a couple of rounds, the field was quickly pared to four, and featured at least one big surprise. Nobody was surprised to see Hibbert and Martin – the 1 and 2 seeds – advance, but Robbie Malinoski earned his was to the semi final round from a fourth seed, and Alaska’s Corey Davis advanced as the 14th seed, first knocking out fellow Cat racer Garth Kaufman and then No. 3 seed Tim Tremblay on a Ski-Doo.

That set the stage for semi final No. 1 – featuring Malinoski vs. Hibbert. Malinoski got the holeshot and early lead, but Hibbert charged hard, bobbled on the big downhill and fell back a couple of seconds on the first lap. While Malinoski drove solid up front on his Amsoil/Rock Star Energy/U.S. Air Force-backed Ski-doo , Hibbert pushed hard and ended up breaking his Monster Energy/Stud Boy/Speedwerx Arctic Cat. He wouldn’t finish the semi final and in fact also couldn’t answer the bell for the consolation race, and ended up in fourth overall.

In the second semi final, Martin grabbed the early lead while Davis, like fellow Cat racer Hibbert, struggled on the backstretch of the first lap. Martin grabbed a two-second lead and was never seriously challenged on his DuPont/Jack Links Polaris.

The final was ultra exciting – for about 10 seconds. Martin got the slight holeshot but Malinoski grabbed the inside line and stayed very close down the backstretch and the sleds practically touched in the first turn. Both drivers squared up and pinched the throttle heading toward the flagstand with Martin now taking a very bumpy inside line. He struggled, bounding left and right on the edge of control, while Malinoski charged on a far line. As Martin righted his sled over the tabletop jump at the flagstand, Malinoski launched big and got separated from his ride – driver and sled landing a good 15 feet apart. In such a short race, that spelled disaster for Malinowski and an easy win for Martin.

After the race, trackside announcer Rob Powers asked Martin what he was going to do with the ten large. “Well, I’ve already been told that I’ve got to take the entire team out to dinner tonight,” a smiling Martin said. Amsoil’s Jeremy Myers handed Martin a unique-looking trophy, featuring two pistons coming out of a single cylinder, along with the $10,000 check.

It was a great way to wrap up the first day at Duluth, but the big action starts on Saturday, with the races that count for season points take off. There will be one Pro final Saturday and another Sunday – meaning, no matter which day you attend, you’ll get to see all of the stars. The racing can also be viewed live on this trendy little Internet thing using this link: http://www.ustream.tv/xsantv.

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